If, as fashionistas say, French blue is the new black, then travel pundits have a similar mantra: Poland is the new Prague. As Polish cities vault into modern times yet maintain their majesty with cobblestone nooks and crannies giving way to arched stone passageways around whose corners you expect time warps to open, Poland grows into "the hot new" Central European travel destination. Bordered by the Czech Republic, Germany, the Baltic Sea, Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, the Ukraine, and Slovakia, Poland can be a central location for visiting the entire region. Its land is diverse. From canoeing trips up North to sailing in the Lake Districts to ruins of medieval castles to the horrors of the concentration camps to the mountains of the South, Poland remains many things at once.
To compare Poland's newfound appeal to Prague's enchanting corners, Paul Laifer Tours (tel. 800/346-6314; www.laifertours.com) has an 11-day air and hotel package to Prague, Warsaw and Krakow starting from $1,219. The trip includes round-trip airfare out of New York's JFK with Monday, Friday and Sunday departures, four nights in Prague, two nights in Warsaw, three nights in Krakow, airport transfers, first class rail travel from between Warsaw and Krakow, and a half-day tour of each city with an English speaking guide. With all the free time on this trip, you'll have to pick what areas of each city you want to visit. For example, the Jewish ghetto area of Warsaw is a remarkable walk through one of the 20th centuries dreariest moments; the castle in Prague, however, is one of the most life-inspiring pieces of medieval architecture you might ever see. Hotels on this trip are three- to four-stars by European standards and are centrally located.
For a tour that studies and celebrates Poland's diversity, Intrepid Travel (tel. 877/448-1616; www.intrepidtravel.com) has an eight-day, land-only "Poland Revealed" package that visits Krakow, Warsaw, a hiking trip in Bialowieza National Park, and the Kazimierz Dolny region known for its medieval architecture and artsy population. The price of this land-only trip starts at $775 with travel good from January 1 to December 31, 2006. Starting in Warsaw with the Royal Castle, the trip continues on to the Bialowieza Forest where you might probably catch a glimpse of the European Bison, the largest mammal living on land on the continent. In Krakow, you can visit the former castles of Polish Kings who ruled the country from the 11th to the 17th Century. From Krakow, you can drive or take a train to Auschwitz and Birkenau, two of the most deadly of the German Concentration Camps. No meals are included, so allow about 150 Euros or $181 dollars for the trip's entirety. Accommodations are one night in a hotel, four nights in a pension, and two nights in a private apartment. Following the Vistula River from Warsaw to Krakow, you can see the countryside life along Poland's important natural resource. Pliny, the Roman scholar, recorded the first known use of the name Vistula (or Wisla) in 77 A.D.
For a longer look at the region, Grand Circle Travel (tel. 800-959-0405; www.gct.com) has a 17-day "Best of Eastern Europe" air, hotel and tour combo starting at $1,595 out of New York and Boston that spends almost a full week on Polish territory. Starting in Warsaw, this trip has planned sightseeing excursions and optional excursions to choose from. In addition to airfare and all hotel accommodations in first-class hotels and non-rated hotels, this trip includes hotel transfers, 26 meals, eight sightseeing tours, some lectures on "Polish food" and "Poland during the time of Copernicus", motor coach travel within Eastern Europe and baggage handling for one person per bag. One of the meals on the trip is a home-hosted dinner with a Polish family. Add-ons to other cities are available for $395 for Berlin and $595 to Vienna. This trip leaves often from February 2006 until June 2006. Call a Grand Circle Travel representative for exact dates and prices from your selected gateway. Other departure cities are available. In addition to seven nights in Poland traveling along the Vistula from Warsaw to Krakow, this trip spends three nights in Budapest and four nights in Prague.
If you decide to travel in January or February, bring warm, make that very warm, clothing. It can get down to well below zero degrees Fahrenheit in Poland during the deep winter. But then again, cold is a fact of life for the Poles. What better time to warm your blood in an ancient Warsaw drinking den than the heart of winter?
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